Correspondents – IPS/Al Jazeera
HAVANA TIMES, March 15 (IPS) — The king of Bahrain has declared a state of emergency for three months on the island following weeks of anti-government protests, as deadly clashes continued across the country.
An order by the king “authorized the commander of Bahrain’s defense forces to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens,” a statement read out on television on Tuesday said.
The development comes a day after Saudi-led military forces arrived to support the government, which is facing pressure from the Shia majority to implement reforms.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital, Manama, who cannot be named for security reasons, said the declaration of a state of emergency appeared to have been deliberated upon for some time now.
“The last few days Manama has effectively been shut down. So there was a sense that something was going to happen. Then yesterday we had the GCC troops come in,” he said.
“I’m standing now in and amongst a demonstration. There are tens of thousands of people streaming past me to the Saudi embassy. There is a great sense of change here.”
Al Jazeera’s correspondent said there was not a visible presence of Saudi troops on the streets in his area, but clashes between protesters and Bahraini security forces continued elsewhere.
He confirmed reports that at least two people were killed in the Shia suburb of Sitra outside of Manama in fighting there on Tuesday.
Abdullah Al Hubaaishi, a Bahraini who was making his way to the protest camp at Pearl Roundabout in Manama, told Al Jazeera that there were many wounded protesters on the streets in Sitra.
“Most of them have been shot,” he said. “Those people started attacking the villages and the towns. If there is anybody in the road they will shoot them. If there is nobody in the road they will enter the houses.”
Request for assistance
Hundreds of Saudi-led troops entered Bahrain on Monday to help protect government facilities there amid an escalation in the protests against the government.
Local television broadcast images of troops in armored cars entering the Gulf state via the 26 kilometer causeway that connects the kingdom to Saudi Arabia.
The arrival of the troops followed a request to members of the Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) from Bahrain.
The United Arab Emirates also sent about 500 police to Bahrain, according to Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister. Qatar, meanwhile, did not rule out the possibility of its troops joining the force.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, told Al Jazeera: “There are common responsibilities and obligations within the GCC countries.
“The arrival of Saudi and UAE troops in Bahrain is in line with a GCC defense agreement that calls for all members to oblige when needed and to fully co-operate.
“We are committed to adhering to the GCC agreement. At the moment we have peacekeeping troops. We don’t have a full force there, but this is up for discussion.”
The U.S., which counts both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among its allies, has called for restraint, but has refrained from saying whether it supports the move to deploy troops.
“We urge our GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it,” Tommy Vietor, the White House spokesman, said on Monday.
Americans are being advised to avoid travelling to the island, which is home to U.S. warships that patrol the Gulf.
Iran, meanwhile, has warned against “foreign interferences”.
“The peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain are among the domestic issues of this country, and creating an atmosphere of fear and using other countries’ military forces to oppress these demands is not the solution,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian, an official from the Iranian foreign ministry, was reported by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency as saying.
Provocation to protesters
Abdel al-Mowada, the deputy chairman of Bahrain’s parliament, told Al Jazeera that it was not clear how the Saudi force would be deployed but denied the troops would become a provocation to protesters.
“It is not a lack of security forces in Bahrain, it is a showing of solidarity among the GCC,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t know if they are going to be in the streets or save certain areas … [but protesters] blocking the roads are no good for anyone, we should talk.
“The government is willing to get together and make the changes needed, but when the situation is like this, you cannot talk.”
The Saudi troops arrived less than 24 hours after Bahraini police clashed with demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since troops killed seven protesters last month.
Opposition groups, including Wefaq, the country’s largest Shia movement, have spoken out against the use of foreign troops.
“We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation,” Wefaq said in a statement.